Travel Journal: New York City, April, 2005
New York is mediaville and in most ways a known quantity. So I can't or don't want to sum it all up but would rather leave my impressions in an ungelled form. And I'm not putting in everything, either. This is long enough as it is.
Tip: Bring your credit card and at least two pairs of comfortable walking shoes. Only walking is free. Since I forgot my camera,all I have is this picture that we had taken right before the boat tour around Manhattan.
Cold. It's been a long winter in the East. Miserable. I lost my good jacket I had bought especially for this trip, and then I lost the unmatchable button off my blazer, which was my only other warm garment. So I was left with a sweater, a linen jacket, and a silk undershirt and silk scarf for temperatures around 45-55, to which I could add a windbreaker.
Surprisingly, as long as I kept walking, I was perfectly comfortable.
Other notes on dress: I bought a couple of Eileen Fisher things: a top and a linen jacket. Never will I shop again at that Saftladen, which is German for clip joint. I bought a small tote bag for $25.00 at the Metro Art Museum Store. It looks as if they want more even for their stuff if you order it online, though, and then you have to pay the shipping costs as well. Isn't it strange to be paying all this money when everything's made in China!
On the street, jeans are fine just about everywhere if you combine them with a classic top or blouse, a scarf, jewelry, and a nice jacket. Neat flat shoes are O.K., too, for just about every occasion. Black always works. Hippie stuff is out, at this time of year anyway, but maybe people let themselves get a little more flamboyant in summer. With what clothes cost, It probably makes sense to have just a few things and coordinate them.
I walked a lot, although our hotel was very well located for public transport, both north and south and cross town. But it was so pretty, with bright sunshine, that I spent as much time outdoors as possible. I loved seeing spring starting up in Central Park: mostly forsythia this early. One day I walked for seven hours. I spent hours on my feet in museums. I saw everything I could muster the time and energy for and managed to see about 1/3 of what I had planned. Transportation is cheap: $2.00 for busses and subways. That saved my feet sometimes and was a lifesaver when we came out of the Metropolitan Opera after a performance and couldn't get a cab. A metro card got us on a bus that took us to our hotel in just a few minutes.
On one of our walks in Central Park I stopped to pet a dog that reminded me of my little dog who died a few years ago and we got into a talk with its owner. She told me she rescues dogs from shelters. She had several with her, including a big one who was fetching sticks from the pond. We had quite an impassioned conversation about politics. She was talking about how activist she had become, all the demonstrations. She hated way the Republicans had used her city for post 9-11 propaganda and how disappointed she had been by the election. She said that Midwesterners must be crazy, and that as a New Yorker she felt isolated from the rest of the country. It's funny. We provincials are up on all their local stories, since most media outlets are in New York. But they don't know much about us. They don't realize that the country is full of leftists and activists, and not just in Berkeley and Austin and Madison either. I told her that, and she was pleased. We're all discouraged, though, no doubt about it. The election was a harsh blow, and the new Pope is awful. Now we have both Potus and the Pontiff out to get us.
New York breakfasts: The proletarian breakfast which we had at the Newark Airport was our only bargain meal on this trip. It consisted of masses of bacon, eggs, and toast.and coffee. In town, we ate good but pricey breakfasts at two places near our Upper West Side hotel. We had such things as blintzes, oatmeal with fruit and cream, huge popovers with strawberry butter, fresh squeezed orange juice, etc.
Loved the deli food at Artie's Deli near Broadway and 83rd. Without asking you what you want, the waiter plunks down a big bowl of creamy coleslaw and another bowl of pickled red peppers, kosher pickles, and pickled green tomatoes. We ordered pastrami on rye sandwiches which came almost immediately and were like a dream of deli. It was such a treat. And we learned a little something about New York customs, too. A couple came in and sat next to us. When the orders came they each took half of the others,' which seemed pretty straightforward, but why were they being so furtive, we wondered? Apparently sharing or swapping around your orders in New York delis is bad form.
Times Square futuristic. I read somewhere that one building in Times Square is empty and is just a shell for displays. The gee whiz factor is definitely there. I was reminded of Spielberg visuals. The whole place gives you vertigo, but you feel like you're falling up. It's weird.
Friends drove us through the squalor that is Newark. There was a park with cherry blossoms in bloom, but apparently we affluent white folks weren't supposed to stop and walk around it. Like it was dangerous. Does a performing arts center help?
Dylan gave a concert there yesterday (April 21). That's nice, but I'll bet not too many of the people I saw when cruising through downtown Newark were in the audience. If I were a New Yorker, I would be working on relief efforts for Newark rather than for tsunami victims or the Sudanese. It's a disgrace. Why is this city, once so important, just being allowed to rot away? Its well located airport just minimally serviced? Why is New Jersey still allowing the real estate industry to determine where everybody lives, so that it is as segregated as it was when I lived there in 1969?
Metropolitan Opera Tosca. A thrill for a provincial like me. Found the Opera building quite lovely, red plush seats,etc.and adored the big crystal chandeliers. (Locals find it garish but for a provincial like me it seemed quite lavish yet cheerful.) And hearing grand opera in the flesh,so to speak, was such a thrill. If I lived there, I would spring for season tickets, even though they are so expensive. It's worth it. I felt like I got only a taste of opera, and I just loved it. We're lucky we can hear the Met on Saturday on Public Radio, but being there is a whole different thing.
The more sophisticated would probably prefer the new MOMA as architecture, but I thought the MOMA was a real dull piece of work to cost more than a billion as it did. All that money for a set of boxes painted white? Thanks to its simple layout, it's very easy to find your way around MOMA, and you can do the collection in no time. There isn't much of it out. I thought I would get a more comprehensive look at modern art. Monet's lyrical water lily painting (one of many, of course) looked muddy in that context. The problem is that art has become so valuable that it's lost its special charm. There were many famous pieces on display, such as "Starry Night," but I'd seen it several times before, not to mention over and over in reproduction on cards and tote bags. The place was full of guards protecting their valuable charges from the public. And crowds devoting a second or so to each work. My complaints are not original, I know. What I think is that most of the best art is now in private collections, and we'll never see it. I keep viewing the same stuff over and over in different museums.
Ah, but the Metropolitan Museum. This is a wonderful museum, unique in its collections. I only got to look at a corner of it in the hours I spent there. If I had it to do over, I would not have bothered with any other museum. Well, we live and learn. I loved the historical aspect of what I saw, such as the rooms that Stanford White designed. It showed many things in context. And the audio guide, only five dollars to rent, helped me to orient myself rapidly.I was happy to see Mary Cassat's paintings. She's underrated. Prints only give you a modest notion of her particular talent for depicting sheer beauty. Bierstadt and others of the Hudson River School are extraordinary.
Neue Gallerie. This was a nice small museum, if rather to-to. It reflected moldy rich and outré tastes, not the sort of thing that gets me going. Tiny female nudes with their genitalia painted bright red, brooding portraits and photos, that sort of thing. They had some nice furniture and porcelain, silver, jewelry, and other decorative items. A few really beautiful paintings, but not enough to sate my appetite. And the omnipresent hovering guards, of course. It seems that I have the best of the German art world in a book of photo plates I picked up at a garage sale in Tigard, Oregon many years ago. The museum store had no offerings in German. But I did pick up a singularly depressing read, The Pity of It All: A Portrait of the German-Jewish Epoch, by Amos Elon. Heine got it right. He knew what was going to happen, as if he had dropped in from the future. He foresaw that a united Germanic Volk would declare war on the world. As the novelist Berthold Auerbach said, "We lived and worked in vain." Let's hope we're not living and working in vain now.
Riverside Church. We attended a service there. This is nominally a Baptist church but really multidenominational Protestant. The congregation was racially and ethnically mixed, black bourgeoisie and white liberals, for the most part. It was an enlightening experience to be among Believers who are politically progressive. It's a corrective for people like me who tend to think that religious people have rocks in their heads. I got the sense from Dr. Forbes the minister's sermon, that he and his congregation believe that God can't do everything and that therefore we must work for social justice. It was a great experience to be among these wonderful people.
We saw a musical and a play. I fell down on this one, because I did not realize the changes in theater since I last saw any in NY. It would have been better to stick to the classics: Albee, Miller, Tennessee Williams. Instead I went for an off-Broadway musical called God Hates the Irish on the basis of its title and its amusing idea: the hero is a lad named "armless Johnny." There were funny things in the play, and all the performers were talented and versatile.The opening scene gave me hope that this would be hilarious. It was Johnny's sadistic dad trying to teach him to play catch and sneering at him for not being able to do it for lack of arms. Also, there was a good number by his mother, "Just Because I'm Dead," which points out that nothing ever releases an Irish lad from his obligation to the dear old thing, no matter how hateful she was. (And posthumous to boot!)If the play had stuck to the theme of Irish families, it could have been great.However, it was surprisingly amateurish and half-baked as theater. It tried to be in bad taste, but epater le bourgeois is so yesterday. At $35.00 a pop, I expected more. As to the staging, I was reminded of what a wit once said: "Economy of means, economy of ends."
Tierno Bokar. This high-class turkey was in French with titles provided. No intermission was provided for fear the audience would escape. Yawn-o-rama. The nice ticket seller tried to warn me off, but did I listen?
Actually, the best theater I've seen recently was a performance of Joyce Carol Oates's Tone Clusters by the Hilo, Hawaii Players. Admission: eight dollars. Acting? Great. Staging? Wonderfully done. I am gaining quite an appreciation for what people do in the way of art, music, and theater in this supposedly provincial town.
Columbus Square, home of Trump Tower. A brute of a building crammed into the center of Manhattan. Nearby was Carnegie Hall. Well, I got there.
The Circle Line Cruises. This was the best single thing we did. we took the three hour cruise all around the island of Manhattan.We viewed Grant's Tomb from the water after having seen it earlier--it's right across the street from Riverside Church-- the boroughs looming nearby, all the bridges, the ventilation towers of the Lincoln Tunnel, Gracie Mansion, The Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, the surprisingly lovely Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty in a view that made me wish I had never seen her before but could have a fresh impression. She was clean and beautiful on a sparkling day from the water with her gilded torch held high and her lovely head etched against the sky. The guide was informative but not intrusive. Perfect.
© 2005, Marianna Scheffer